WASHINGTON – U.S. House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings, a key figure in the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry and a fierce critic of President Donald Trump, has died, AP reported.
Cummings, 68, passed away Thursday at Johns Hopkins Hospital due to complications concerning long-standing health challenges, AP reported, citing a statement from his office.
The Maryland congressman’s death comes as he was chairing one of the three panels that has been leading the House impeachment investigation focusing on Trump’s Ukraine activities.
While the Democratic chairmen of the other two, Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff and Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel have been present at the Capitol this week, Cummings has been notably absent.
Even before the focus on Ukraine, Cummings’s committee was looking into a wide range of other matters, including the administration’s failed effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. Census, as well as the use by Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and others of private texts and emails for official business.
In August, Cummings during a speech at the National Press Club, called for “those in the highest level” of government to stop using “racist language” that divides Americans, referring to Trump’s rhetorical attacks on his hometown of Baltimore without naming the president.
“Unbalanced criticism can be self reinforcing, causing us to doubt our ability to improve,” Cummings said. “Time is precious, and I will not waste it on anything trying to distract me from my purpose and my mission.”
Trump had earlier trained his ire on Cummings after Fox News showed the Maryland Democrat criticizing the administration’s immigration policy, especially the treatment of migrants seeking asylum at the southern border. He began tweeting on July 27 and continued for several days, describing Baltimore, part of which is in Cummings’ district, as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.”
Cummings was among the first to call for a congressional investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. He also sought information on Trump and his business and whether the president could run afoul of the emoluments clauses of the Constitution, which bar the president from taking money from a foreign government or accepting any domestic compensation except his salary.
Born in 1951 in segregated Baltimore, Cummings said he was among the first black children to integrate the city’s Riverside Park swimming pool in the summer of 1962.
His political career started in 1982 when he won an election to the Maryland state House. He served there for seven terms, and was the first black lawmaker in the state to become speaker pro tem, before being elected to Congress in 1996.
Who might succeed Cummings as chairman of the Oversight panel, and that post’s duties as a top House impeachment investigator, was not clear.
Other senior Democratic members of the panel include Representatives Carolyn Maloney of New York; William Lacy Clay of Missouri; Jim Cooper of Tennessee; and Gerald Connolly of Virginia.